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Fred Beckey

Fred Beckey
Fred Beckey, about 1990.jpg
Fred Beckey, circa 1990
Friedrich Wolfgang Beckey

(1923-01-14)14 January 1923
Died30 October 2017(2017-10-30) (aged 94)
Alma materUniversity of Washington
OccupationRock climber, mountaineer, author

Friedrich Wolfgang Beckey (14 January 1923 – 30 October 2017), known as Fred Beckey, was an American rock climber, mountaineer and author, who made hundreds of first ascents, more than any other North American climber.[1] A documentary film on his life, Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey, premiered in 2017.

Early years

Beckey was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, and his family immigrated to the United States in 1925, ending up in Seattle, Washington. He started climbing in the North Cascades as a teenager around age thirteen, learning the basic concepts from the Boy Scouts and, later, The Mountaineers but quickly going on to harder climbs on his own. He added to his climbing skills while serving in WWII with the 10th Mountain Division as an instructor.[2] He managed to continue this focus on climbing for more than seventy years and has become an icon in North American mountaineering.

He attended the University of Washington and received a degree in business administration in 1949.[3] He entered the printing industry and soon discovered that his work assignments encroached upon his climbing goals. He eschewed the printing industry to gain more climbing time. He worked as a delivery truck driver, which left him time for climbing. As time went on, he decided that climbing was his life's focus. He never married or had children, he never pursued a professional career, he never sought money or financial security as a goal—his goal was to climb mountains.

Unlike Jim Whittaker, a fellow Seattleite and the first American to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1963, Beckey shied away from the large team efforts, preferring smaller alpine-style undertakings. Beckey seemed a likely choice as a member for the large, 1963 American Everest Expedition, but he was not chosen, even though he had been to Lhotse in 1955 with the International Himalayan Expedition.[4]

Guidebook author

Fred Beckey (right) in Alaska, 2005
Fred Beckey in a climbing gym in 2014

In the late 1940s, he asked The Mountaineers of Seattle to publish his first climbing guidebook for the local peaks. They turned him down, and the American Alpine Club agreed to print a few thousand copies for a flat fee. Between climbs, he wrote several books, most notably the Cascade Alpine Guide, the definitive three-volume description of the Cascades from the Columbia River to the Fraser River, now in its third edition, published by The Mountaineers.

Later accomplishments

In 2003, his 563-page book on the history of the region, Range of Glaciers, was published by the Oregon Historical Society Press. According to a reviewer, he did much of the research for the volume in Washington, D.C., at the Library of Congress and the National Archives, scouring files of the State Department, U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies. Beckey also perused the Canadian archives in Ottawa, Ontario; Hudson's Bay Co. archives in Winnipeg, Manitoba; British Columbia archives in Victoria, British Columbia; records of the Northwest Boundary Survey at Yale University; and records of the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads in Minneapolis.

As of June 2013, he continued to climb.[5]

Mount Beckey, named for Beckey, is located in the Alaska Range at North 62 degrees, 52 minutes, West 152 degrees, 15 minutes.

Fred Beckey died on October 30, 2017 at the age of 94.[6]

A feature documentary on his life premiered in 2017, titled Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey.[7][8]

First ascents

Devils Thumb, Alaska

Some of his first ascents:

Other notable ascents

Fred Beckey on Louise Falls in 2006


Timothy Egan captures Fred Beckey's personality in a chapter of The Good Rain. Beckey named Vasiliki Ridge, by Washington Pass, after his one true love. Beckey is a quintessential dirtbag climber, and there is a classic portrait of him holding a sign "Will belay for food." His reputation is well known among many climbers, captured in a T-shirt "Beware of Beckey: He will steal your woman, steal your route." [12]


  • Fred Beckey's 100 Favorite North American Climbs (Patagonia Inc., 2011, ISBN 978-0-9801227-1-8)
  • Range of Glaciers: The Exploration and Survey of the Northern Cascade Range (Oregon Historical Society, 2003 ISBN 0-87595-243-7)
  • Cascade Alpine Guide (3 vols.) (Mountaineers Books, 1973–2008)
  • Challenge of the North Cascades (1969, 2nd ed. 1996, ISBN 0-89886-479-8)
  • Mount McKinley: Icy Crown of North America (Mountaineers Books 1993, paper 1999, ISBN 0-89886-646-4)
  • The Bugaboos: An Alpine History (1987) (Introduction Only)
  • Mountains of North America (1986)
  • Mountains of North America (Sierra Club, 1982)
  • Darrington and Index Rock Climbing Guide (Mountaineers Books, 1976)
  • Guide to Leavenworth rock-climbing areas (Mountaineers Books, 1965)
  • Climber's Guide to the Cascade and Olympic Mountains of Washington (American Alpine Club, 1949, revised edition 1953)

See also


  1. ^ Modie, Neil (2003-03-08). "Icon to some, legendary climber Beckey still obscure to many". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Seattle PI. Retrieved 2006-01-07.
  2. ^ Denver Public Library 10th Mountain Database
  3. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (October 31, 2017), "Fred Beckey, Conqueror and Chronicler of North American Peaks, Dies at 94", The New York Times
  4. ^ "Solu Khumbu Climbs: First Ascents After Lhotse". American Alpine Journal. 10 (2): 7. 1956.
  5. ^ Shore, Richard. "Fred Beckey climbing at Nightmare Rock".
  6. ^ "Remembering Fred Beckey". The Mountaineers. 2017-10-30. Retrieved 2017-10-30.
  7. ^ "Official Movie Website". Fred Beckey Film. 2017-10-30. Retrieved 2017-10-30.
  8. ^ "Dirtbag is Peak Documentary Filmmaking". City Arts Magazine. 2017-06-02. Retrieved 2017-10-30.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Selters, Andy (2004). Ways to the Sky. Golden, CO: The American Alpine Club Press. ISBN 0-930410-83-1.
  10. ^ Child, Greg (October 2000). "Rock Legends". Outside Magazine. Retrieved 2006-10-04.
  11. ^ a b c d Beckey, Fred (1969). H. Adams Carter (ed.). "Climbs and Expeditions". American Alpine Journal. Philadelphia, PA: American Alpine Club. 16 (43).
  12. ^ Egan, Timothy (1991). The Good Rain. ISBN 0-679-73485-6.

External links

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